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Fair housing group files foreclosure maintenance complaint against Wells Fargo

The National Fair Housing Alliance said Tuesday that it has filed a federal housing discrimination complaint  against Wells Fargo, alleging that the bank is doing a better job maintaining foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods than foreclosures in minority neighborhoods.

The alliance said last week that it scored the condition of foreclosed homes in nine regions, including Baltimore, and found disparities based on the racial makeup of neighborhoods. (The Baltimore metro area was an outlier in the alliance's report: Though staffers found differences by neighborhood, the overall scores were basically equally lousy.)

That report didn't name names. But this week's complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, singles out Wells Fargo.

The alliance said in the complaint that it looked at more than 200 homes owned by the company. The "data and pictures collected in this investigation demonstrate that Wells Fargo has engaged in a systemic and particularized practice of maintaining and marketing its REO properties in a state of disrepair in communities of color while maintaining and marketing REO properties in predominantly White communities in a materially better condition," the group said. (Wells Fargo disputes this.)

In the Baltimore area, where the alliance looked at 16 homes owned by Wells Fargo, the fair-housing group said 38 percent of the bank's foreclosures in white neighborhoods had fewer than five "maintenance or marketing deficiencies," compared with 25 percent of its foreclosures in minority neighborhoods.

Half the properties in minority neighborhoods had overgrown or dead shrubbery, compared with a quarter of homes in white neighborhoods, the alliance said. The homes in minority neighborhoods were also more likely to have problems such as broken doors or locks, rotting wood and trash in the yard, the group said.

Tom Goyda, a Wells Fargo spokesman, said the company's maintenance and marketing is conducted "in a fair and consistent manner without regard to race."

"Regrettably, the complaint does not include specific property information that can allow us to investigate the circumstances in any of the markets they list," he said in an email.

He said Wells Fargo has a department responsible for conducting monthly inspections of foreclosed homes, handling maintenance, securing properties and resolving violations. If Wells Fargo is the servicer rather than the owner, though, it's not necessarily responsible for that work, Goyda said. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and a number of other mortgage investors manage their own maintenance, he said.

HUD said Tuesday that it had received the complaint and would review it. The agency's complaint process is outlined here.

"Administrative complaints can lead to a formal civil rights investigation led by HUD or similar state agencies," Shantae Goodloe, a HUD spokeswoman, said in an email.

Got a housing news tip or experience to share? (Or just want to tell me something?) Email me at jhopkins@baltsun.com.

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